Kindle e-book readerAmazon has put out for sale its new Kindle e-book reader. Unlike previous e-book readers such as the Sony Reader, which has to be connected to a PC to download book files, the Kindle communicates with the Net wirelessly, with no PC involved. (This is the illustration from Amazon’s site – don’t you like the little “wireless rays” emanating from it? It looks like a miracle gizmo that lets you read the paper and call your dog, from one of those “SkyMall” catalogs in the back of your airline seat.)

Anyway – because it uses cellphone-based broadband, you’ll be linked to the Internet from anywhere there’s cell access, not just when you’re near a WiFi hotspot. It thus allows Kindle owners, wherever they are, to download newspapers and blogs automatically.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, in a Newsweek interview with tech writer Steven Levy, has disagreed with publishers over whether publishers are justified charging the same prices for e-books that they now charge for 3-D bound books, and I agree with his attitude, since e-book files are designed to work with one reader device only. He also says that he’s willing to consider working with libraries on lending Kindle-format books. (This will be a first, as no e-book device manufacturer has expressed any interest up to now in making their readers work with lending books through a library.)

Readers have long complained that new books cost too much; the $9.99 charge for new releases and best sellers is Amazon’s answer. (You can also get classics for a song: I downloaded “Bleak House” for $1.99.) Bezos explains that it’s only fair to charge less for e-books because you can’t give them as gifts, and due to restrictive antipiracy software, you can’t lend them out or resell them. (Libraries, though, have developed lending procedures for previous versions of e-books—like the tape in “Mission: Impossible,” they evaporate after the loan period—and Bezos says that he’s open to the idea of eventually doing that with the Kindle.)

Will the Kindle finally become the product that will change the nature of how we read books? While I’m pretty skeptical – $399 is still way too much for this kind of device, wireless or not – it’s getting closer to something that might make e-books palatable to the current 3-D book reader.

And what will ultimately help the Kindle succeed is whether it will appeal to kids, teens, and twenty-somethings. They’re the people who are the least emotionally invested in the printed page, and have spent a far greater proportion of their lives living in front of screens than us older folks. However, if you’re under 18 and see a portable electronic device that costs $399, you had better be able to play computer games on it.

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